Wednesday consisted of 730 miles across four states; North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. We finished the tour round the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and headed towards Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, with me in the passenger seat after getting relegated from driving.

The trip to the monument, which was in Montana was roughly a four hour journey through the vast wilderness of the state. There were fields and fields of greenery filled with cows, deer and farms. As we inched closer to the monument there were deep green/purple valleys coloured with white flowers. It was beautiful. The roads are lonely. There’s very few gas stations, rest areas are 60 or more apart and the food options are limited. We arrived at the memorial and were able to use our America the Beautiful Annual Pass to gain free entry again! 

So what is the monument? The Battle of Little Bighorn was fought across two days in June 1876. It was one of the last attempts of the Northern Plains Indians to preserve their way of life. More than 260 US Army soldiers lost their lives against thousands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. Lieutenant Colonel George Custer and his entire unit were among the dead. The Indians won the battle but ultimately lost the war against ending their independent nomadic lives.

The monument takes you across a ten mile stretch of the battlefield with 17 stop points along the way. Custer national cemeteryReno-Benteen monument 

Indian Memorial

The views were expansive and full of hidden valleys for the battlefield. We then made our way towards Devils Tower. The sun was beginning to set again so we didn’t see it with the backdrop of blue sky but instead with the colourful sunset.

Devils Tower was declared the first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It was formed by magma and cooled underground later becoming exposed after millions of years of erosion by the Belle Fourche River and the weather. It is 865 feet high and is a favourite for rock climbers! Steven Spielberg used Devils Tower in his 1978 film ‘close encounters of the third kind.’

There is a cute legend that goes along with the tower and that is of a bear and seven girls. There was an Indian tribe camping beside the river and seven young girls were playing nearby. A bear began to chase the girls, jumped up on a theee foot high rock and prayed to it asking the rock to save them. The rock heard their prayers and began to grow upwards higher and higher from the bears reach. The bear was clawing and jumping at the side of the rock but broke its claws and fell. It continued until the rock pushed the girls up to the sky. They are still there now in the Pleiades constellation, 7 little stars. I really like this legend!

We left the tower and ventured to our motel for the evening in Sturgis, South Dakota. 

This morning consisted of a trip to Walmart to stock up the car before heading to Mount Rushmore a short 18 mile ride away. I have always wanted to see this amazing memorial and it didn’t disappoint. Comprising of the faves of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, this monument was the brainchild of a South Dakota historian by the name of Doane Robinson in 1923. He wanted to carve Old West heroes in the Needles (the spirelike granite formation in the black hills). He approached sculptor Gutzon Borglum who was working on the confederate memorial on Stone Mountain in Georgia. 

Two years later fundraising began after the proposition of it being US Presidents was put forward. Carving didn’t begin until 1927. Washington’s head was completed in 1930. Jefferson’s was completed in 1936 after it was repositioned to the left of Washington and the first head blasted away. Lincoln’s head was completed shortly after in 1937 followed by Roosevelt in 1939. Sadly Borglum passed away two years later so his son, Lincoln oversaw the rest of the completion until it was fully completed on October 31st 1941. There were about 400 labourers who worked on the carvings. Some saw it as a job others saw it as a calling. No one died whilst working on the memorial, there were just a few injuries which you can expect after blasting 450,000 tonnes from the mountain! Nowadays 3 million people from all around the work come to see this spectacle….It was absolutely amazing. It cost $10 to park but that allows you parking for a year! There are trails, a bookshop, visitors centre, amphitheatre for shows and they do a light show in the evenings which I imagine is fantastic. 

In front of the monument is the avenue of floats which shows when each state joined the union. In the visitors centre they had an exhibition on the sculptor and the creation.It truly was a fantastic place to see! I feel so lucky that we got to see it too! We drove the short distance from Mount Rushmore to Crazy Horse Memorial, which is a bit different as it’s a memorial not yet completed. 

The Crazy Horse Memorial, is a tribute to the Lakota leader, Crazy Horse. He was a warrior and an instrumental part in the battle of Little Bighorn. He was killed in 1877 in Nebraska. He was only in his thirties. On September 6th every year, a night last at the memorial is held to honour Crazy Horse’s short but legendary life as well as the birth of the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski. 

Ziolkowski was invited by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Beat to carve the sculpture of Crazy Horse. It stands to honour the culture and heritage of all North American Indians. Ziolkowski was unsure to begin with as he didn’t think Crazy Horse had necessarily done anything to perhaps warrant a memoria but it turns out it was to be more  of a memorial to his spirit. 

His left hand would be pointed forward because he was asked by a white man once, “Where are your lands now?” Crazy Horse replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” The Native Indians, had their own customs and way of living which was taken away from them after the battle of Little Bighorn. Ziolkowski maintened the idea that the memorial and foundation should be solely privately funded and nothing taken from the government. To this day it remains privately funded from tourists flocking to the visitors centre and surrounding areas. It also remained a family affair with Ziolkowski’s wife Ruth and ten children either working in the mountain , serving in the board or running the gift shop and visitors centre.

They showed a video about this which was really quite moving! Ruth passed in 2014 but the children continue to work there!From here it was on to Jewel Cave National Monument. There is so much to see and do in South Dakota! Our passes didn’t get us entry on to the tour here but that didn’t matter as we were excited to see another cave. Jewel Cave isn’t as long as Mammoth Cave and comes in at 189 miles and still exploring! 

Everywhere we have visited so far today sits in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Jewel cave was established as a national monument in 1908. Ranger Gregory asked “who by?” To which I replied Roosevelt, citing that it was the President, Theodore Roosevelt who designated it. I then got called a brown nose for the trip because I answered the “rhetorical question.” Or I have just paid attention to everywhere we have been…😂

We descended an elevator (yes an elevator in an old cave) to 240ft below the surface.The cave only had a mile explored when it became a national monument in 1908 and it wasn’t until the 1960s when Herb and Jan Conn spent 21 years leading caving trips and mapping 65 miles of the cave. Since then it has been explored to 189 miles with no sign of stopping!

The map of the cave shows different levels depending on colour and each room and place that has been uncovered has been named. It’s a first come first name basis so whoever finds it, names it. There are some interesting names such as, the ‘big duh’ for the biggest room in the cave so far, ‘the good the bad and the ugly,’ ‘no way through,’ amongst others. The whole bits in the photo are calcite crystal.Huge flowstone above 

Jewel cave is named for its jewel-like calcite crystals surrounding the passageways. The cave consists of stalactites, soda straws (not to be drunk from), flowstone and pillars. It is one of the worlds largest caves and probably only had 3-5% of it mapped, so it’s gonna be huge!Anyone for Cave bacon for breakfast? Might hurt your teeth and taste like dirt? Another fascinating formation from deep below our surface! As I was listening to our guide, Ranger Gregory, I was feeling more and more compelled to sign up to become a cave explorer! I mean it literally does sound incredibly fun and satisfying! Then he said that it could take 7-8 hours to get to the camp within the cave and then another three hours to the edge of the cave. I mean that sounds like a lot of walking the same passages doesn’t it? 

Still, it would be fun to don a hard hat and boots, have several different light sources and go get lost in a cave hopefully to stumble across a hidden gem no one has before! So that was my new career…cave explorer! That was until we exited the tour from an elevator bringing us up the 300ft we were below the surface. We had progressed down something like 700 steps and gone in a loop through the cave. The block that you can see a group of people round, is the block that you have to fit through in order to do the proper caving tour. A gap 8 inches by 24 inches. The dad of the group got his chest stuck, and he certainly wasn’t big, so I’d have no chance of getting through it 😂😂😂!! Sadly I don’t think I’d make a very good cave explorer as I’d either get stuck or have to hack my way through the rock to get through which we don’t want happening as these beautiful places need to be preserved for generations to come! I wish I could take credit for this blog’s title but I can’t, it’s the caverns motto…

“Take nothing but photos 📷, leave nothing but footprints 👣 , kill nothing but time 🕰”

Our next destination was going to be wind cave to see the box work but sadly we missed the last tour staring at crystals in jewel cave! That was our second cave and they’ve both been so different. A geological wonder. We headed towards Badlands National Park.

We stopped at “Bear Country USA,” pulled up to the window and before we knew it we had been enticed into this drive-thru wildlife park. They had elk,deer, mountain lions, bison, baby big-horn goats but the main attraction was these…There were so many bears and they have a huge forest outside of here where 1-3 year old cubs get introduced to the wild and their hibernation area is also protected! Speaking of cubs…Twelve baby bear cubs! They were the most adorable thing we had ever seen, aside from the panda cubs! They were so playful running around and trying to jump up at us and escape as well as play fighting amongst each other! We spent quite a while watching them! At the wildlife park they also had raccoons, bobcats, a lynx, beavers, porcupine and otters. Another unexpected great find to add to our trip!

We left the park and began making our way to Pierre, where we would encounter another time jump forward about a mile from our motel! The town of Pierre was very quiet and everywhere seemed to shut at 9pm which didn’t help us scavengers looking for food! 😂 Another great day!

Until next time….